Friday, May 16, 2008

New Media Conference in Colorado

In a number of posts before I have talked about the plans for a Podcamp Colorado. These plans have morphed and grown to the point where we realized that we were really creating a New Media Conference and associated Film Festival and should call it like it is.

That said, this November, November 7-9th we will be having the first Thin Air Summit, a conference on New Media, Independent music, and Web 2.0 technologies.

You can read more details about our transition from Podcamp to a Conference here.

This is a project I will be heading up and I am very excited about the project. Web technologies and virtual worlds make it so that we can connect with people globally but at the same time we need to recognize the gems in our own back yard. In hearing about all of these new media conferences all over the world I have wanted to come and meet in person the people I have made friends with through Twitter, Second Life, BlogTV, Ustream and other places. Now I want to invite all of you to come out to Colorado this November and meet me and see what is so awesome about Colorado.

World of Warcraft Academic Conference

This past weekend there was an academic conference in World of Warcraft. When I first heard about the conference I was intrigued by the concept. The topic of the use of virtual worlds for research was intriguing, but even more so I was intrigued as to how the conference would work

As many of you know I have attended more than a couple of conferences in Second Life so the opportunity to explore a conference in another virtual world was right up my alley simply from the point of view of comparing the technologies and the experience.

Unfortunately I was only able to attend one day of the conference, so my observations are limited to how it ran on the very first day. I will post links to other blog posts reviewing the event at the end.

Looking at the content of the conference, the session I was able to attend was more discussive than instructive. Certain questions were presented and the group shared their thoughts and experiences, some backed by fact some backed by intuition. Although less structured than a standard conference session it was an interesting round table discussion.

My personal recommendation for future sessions would be a little more focus, and a glossary. I asked a number of dumb questions, "Can you define what you mean by x," and after each question a number of people whispered to me that they had had the same question. That said, with the question and answer format it is harder to keep control of the discussion and it is hard to know what exactly would need to be in the glossary.

From the technical standpoint it was very different from the experience of Second Life. Although I recognize the focus of this conference was one that would likely appeal to people who already have experiences in virtual worlds I am going to look at the experience from the perspective of the challenges of holding a conference in a virtual world. (Yes, I know that WoW is not designed for it. This is merely looking at the challenges given the design of the world.)

In World of Warcraft there are no ways to limit who can enter an area, kick people out of an area. This presents a considerable level of risk to a conference. You can try to pick a remote location but a horde of people with the same group tag heading in a general direction (with the initial starting place announced in a public place) is pretty easy to track. If someone wanted to they could have rounded up a gang and entered into battle with the attendees which could have been pretty disruptive, unless we all decided to hang out as ghosts for the duration of the conference.

Another challenge was getting to the conference. Luckily I had been in at the beginning and had been added to a group for the pre-conference raid. This meant I had indicators on the map indicating where the people in my group were which allowed me to find the location. Without teleport (in general) or an easy way to mark and travel to coordinates on a map getting to a location or directing a person to a location requires that they have a reasonable ability to follow directions, as in go east along the hills and then turn north at the tree.

One thing that they did that was clever was to use the guild chat (think group IM for those familiar with SL) for the conference. This meant that even if a person was not present they could participate in the event. There was no remote viewing of any presentations, but then there is no way to bring a presentation in to World of Warcraft so this was not a problem.

Over allit was a very good first experiment with holding a conference in World of Warcraft. Although a conference is not the standard fare for how people interact in World of Warcraft it is not completely beyond the pale of reasonable interactions. We often see people using applications in different and unexpected ways. I would say that holding a conference in World of Warcraft is not for the faint hearted, but as a place to gather and play and discuss I think a lot of benefit can be found.

More on the conference:
Stereo Left, Right, Centre on the conference
A flickr group of photos

If you were at the conference I'd love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to comment below.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Technology and Travel

While I haven't traveled that often as of late, I have traveled quite a bit throughout my life. As a child I traveled to Europe and about 15 years ago I traveled frequently for work. However, back then travel and personal technology were not so closely linked. As a child I'd get puzzle books to entertain me. When I traveled for work I had a cell phone but it was just to make calls.

This trip I observed how technology was constantly part of the journey. I recognize this is by choice and not the experience for every traveler, but I suspect that in the future it will be the more common experience.

What follows is more simply observations of the experience. There are definitely some points below that deserve further thought. The changing focus of presence will have impact on how we interact and form relationships and what our expectations are of these relationships. It even has the potential for creating societal divides if not done with awareness. But for now, what follows is mainly my observation of my interaction with technology.


Of course I brought my laptop with me, but it stayed in its bag except for when at my parent's house, well and right now as I type this up at the airport. However, my little blackberry phone was in regular use. I was photoing the sights that caught my eye, some every day sights some slightly more artistic. Then these photos were sent up to the web, via email. Some went to Flickr, and more went to Brightkite, which I thought I would try to use more, since I was actually traveling rather than staying all in one zip code.

As I sent these pictures off I realized how much of my life I share and make public, and how different that is from only a few years ago. We live as mini-celebrities. "Look I'm here, and this is what I saw!" I suppose we have no paparazzi but ourselves, but the sharing our life as if others care is an interesting feature of our new digitally connected life. Yes,, I know other's care...but the visibility is far more than just your family/local friends/coworkers that might have seen the photos before. Even more so, because of the ease of taking and posting the photos shots of a grocery store with a Tapas bar got taken while it would have been silly or trivial to take such before.

Beyond the photo sharing nature of the trip there was also the IM client on the phone. I think I had 3 phone calls the whole trip, but I was chattering with people in private IMs and in twitter and even in chatterous.

I may have been no where near my "computer" but my phone stood in its stead. This constant partial connection is an interesting experience. Even wandering about in the world and spending time with people there were moments of communication with those distant.

Even with all that connection when I got online I still was doing catching up on missed messages on twitter and touching base with a few people through email.

I realize I have a few projects getting ramped up, and I also realize that I could have disconnected and the world wouldn't have ended. Even knowing that, it seemed natural and comfortable to be checking in and touching base with electronically connected friends. In a sense I shared my travel with others, which is a different way to fly.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Twitter, The Sichuan Quake, and Emergency Response

Eric Rice started a thread of discussion on The Sichuan Quake and the Hubris of Twitter Users on his friendfeed. I had more than 255 characters worth of though (or whatever the comment character limit is), so I thought I would blog about it here.

For those not on twitter or not following the twitter/earthquake discussion, there was much discussion about how the Earthquake in Sichuan China was reported first on twitter (see Scoble's article for an example) and a counter discussion on how we are overstating twitter's importance. What follows is my take on the subject.

Ok there are a few levels here. First off for local response first responders are going to want a coordinated form of communication. Hand talkies - whether ham or other format that convey voice would be my first choice. During a lot crisises these days people are relying on cell phones - everyone has one and they seem reliable. This isn't necessarily bad (at least in the US) because the phone companies have disaster plans and set up temporary communication towers quickly and drill on this. Yeah a ham radio may be more reliable but if you don't carry it on you and your standard system is cell phones it isn't going to help in a crisis. Finding a way to make the tools on-hand work is going to be way more useful.

Does this mean there is no use for Ham radio anymore? No, I would say that Ham radio is still very useful - they can be part of a disaster response, they have an ability to send messages great distances when local trunks will be overloaded even if functioning. Ham radio operators are part of RACES and ARES (and I suspect other country equivalents) and they drill and prepare to respond to emergencies. Ham radio is often part of the backbone that coordinates the overall response.

So that's great for local but what about outside of the local area. Well Ham radio will get some messages out, but tools like Twitter have the ability to spread the message quickly - among those who are watching. This means friends on twitter may be updated by a single SMS message that their friend is ok. This is way more efficient and taxes the phone trunks much less. This also means that interested people can know faster, and it may provide a connection to those in the situation that is helpful. Yeah it may not get a first responder to their door but when you are in a situation like that you can be perfectly healthy and safe but concerned about your friends. Twitter can provide a comfort that way.

More important than the local and the immediate friend/family connections twitter has it's true power in a great way to get the news out beyond the local area. It does give a personal face to a disaster, and it may become the source for news reports in the future, but even more importantly it can be part of early detec and early response, both of disasters, but also of potential epidemics. If you look at the INSTEDD program (video) it was started on the basis that scanning local messages for reports of diseases and disasters (as GPHIN was doing) was finding diseases like SARS months before organizations tasked with detecting this - such as WHO. Things like twitter are going to only speed this up - because the crawling can now see near real time chat rather than blog posts which tend to come a bit later along. I believe it is these features that extend outside of the locality of the crisis are where tools like twitter are adding something new.

So yes, twitter is an awesome tool and it is reporting things earlier - and better yet it is reporting it in a way that gets the message out with details that may help with early detection and early response. Should it be the only communication system. Of course not. Relying on any single system in an emergency creates a weakness in the response system, a single point of failure. Are we overstating twitter's importance. Probably, but some of this is the amazement that twitter does provide this feature so well and part of it is our desire to help explain why twitter is useful to those who look at it and go "Why?" Our excitement about our new tools shouldn't reduce our response and attention to disasters, for that would be true hubris, but at the same time these new tools have a place in improving our response and reaction time to these events.